Freely share your work; don’t try to protect it. Many authors make the mistake of treating their writing as if it were the Coca-Cola product formula. I learned quickly to take the opposite approach. I posted PDF versions of chapters and the entire book online for dozens of people to provide feedback on. I’ve freely given away chapters for companies to post on their websites and even mailed out free copies of the book to hundreds. Again, remember your ultimate goal. The writing is a means to hopefully a bigger end, which can be better served by embracing an open ecosystem.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Saldanha, an industry expert on technology and digital strategy, and a sought-after speaker and adviser to Fortune 100 Boards and CEOs on the subject of Digital Transformation. He’s the former VP at Procter & Gamble’s famed multi-billion dollar operations of Global Business Services and IT, and was named one of Computerworld’s 100 CIO’s in 2013. His new book is Why Digital Transformations Fail: The Surprising Disciplines of How to Take Off and Stay Ahead.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I have a confession to make: When I joined P&G twenty-eight years ago in Information Technology it was only because there was no opening in Marketing. I had every intention of getting a transfer into that function as soon as a job opened up because my degree was in Marketing. Over the years I realized that what was important to me was not a specific function but the ability to set a direction, execute it and make a difference. I decided I would remain flexible on everything else. That flexibility took me to P&G roles in Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, India, Switzerland and the U.S. I had the opportunity to run multi-billion dollar operations in shared services and IT in every region of the world, and to create industry-wide advanced technology product development ecosystems. Along the way, I picked up a few insights into what makes transformational change successful, and that became the basis for the book.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
There have been so many remarkable stories over a span of three decades. But the one I’d like to share is the one that taught me the power of visionary goal setting. In 1996, I was the CIO of the P&G India subsidiary when the entire Asia region was implementing SAP. Given P&G’s global model it was decided to have one installation of standard SAP per region. In our case this meant that users across the entire Asia region would connect to one data center to use SAP. That was a challenge given the poor telecoms infrastructure in parts of Asia, but it was not impossible — except in India. In India, it was illegal to interconnect a local network of users to an international network in order to reach a data center in another country.
I agonized for a few days about creating systems in India that would be different and frankly sub-par to those in the rest of the world. And I decided that India would have the same global standard. So I had eighteen months to influence and get the regulations changed in India to make this possible. Once we had decided to take on the challenge of getting the telecoms regulations modernized (which was no mean feat for that time), we took on that challenge head on. In the end, we were successful. To be honest, when I had first set the visionary goal of interconnecting networks, I didn’t think we had more than a ten to twenty percent chance of success. But the magic of setting a visionary goal and getting people excited about it prevailed.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My first job out of school, I was an IT programmer working at a client site. I had been given extensive training in programming by my company, but had no real life computer experience. In those days we worked on terminals in the office, but the mainframes themselves were located in a data center. On my first day at the client, my team leader gave me a tour — and as we ended in the terminal room, he said that we would not be programming since the mainframe was down. When I asked how he knew it was down, he showed me the keyboard on the computer terminal where the lights lit up when the mainframe was on.
The next day, I arrived at the office, visited the terminal room, then went back to the team office and told our team leader it looked like the mainframe was down again. I was surprised at his panicked reaction. I found out later that they were running some major year-end programs that day and it would have been catastrophic if the system were down. We rushed to the terminal room, where I pointed out that the lights on the keyboard that were not lit. He looked at me oddly, then took me aside and said, “You do know that the power needs to be turned on for these to work, don’t you?”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My most exciting effort at the moment is the Disruptive Software Development ecosystem I’ve created. It provides tools such as internal financial systems, manufacturing systems or Human Resources, for internal business operations. This group of IT development companies, dozens of startups and a few other design resources are working to create software products that are 10x in nature — meaning ten times better than existing solutions. The really exciting thing is the voluntary nature of the ecosystem, where multiple organizations play highly synergistic roles to benefit the eventual client companies. It’s a highly collaborative organism.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I’d say that the most important skill I’ve developed over time is storytelling. Working on a book about a complex topic, like Digital Transformation — especially one targeted at non-technical senior leadership — the best strategy to bring a concept to life is using examples. For this book, I used at least two major case studies and several other examples in each chapter. The stories ranged from my own experiences at Procter & Gamble to stories from my work in Singapore.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I’ve always been curious about how [X] or Google X as it’s commonly referred to, was successful in bringing so many disruptive new products to life — from driverless cars to balloon-based internet connectivity. I always imagined it as a cool, James Bond “Q lab” type place where all kinds of crazy ideas were generated and tested. In reality it’s a cool place all right, but where I expected creative anarchy, there was discipline. It’s an organization that prides itself as a project killing shop, where thousands of ideas and projects are parsed to get to the very few big successes. And the big ideas are executed with immense project and financial rigor. Of the over a hundred organizations I’ve talked to, that’s the most interesting insight.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
The current Fourth Industrial Revolution is an opportunity of historic proportions. It just needs the right visionary mindset, and the disciplined pursuit of skill-building a change execution. Unlike the sensational stories of how robots and AI are coming for your jobs, in reality, organizations and individuals have a lot they can do to turn this era into a huge positive opportunity. My work over the past decades on Digital Transformation has demonstrated how a disciplined approach can generate exponential winners.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
As a first time author who knew nothing about the publishing industry, the entire journey has been a learning experience. My first mistake was to write the entire book before trying to locate a publisher. Little did I know that that while fiction authors might write the entire book before finding a publisher, the more established practice for business books is to write a chapter or so before getting a publisher. I learned my second major lesson while trying to get signed up by a publisher. Most publishers don’t even respond to direct book proposals from new authors without a good agent. Fine, I thought, let’s get an agent. Again, easier said than done. Good agents may get thousands of book proposals in a year. The better strategy is to be recommended by an already established author. Ultimately, everything fell neatly in place with a great agent from the Trident Media Group, the best publisher ever in Berrett-Koehler, and an incredible editor who is also Berrett-Koehler’s founder and President. Thanks to his brilliant coaching, I rewrote about half the book. My naïveté cost me in terms of time, but by approaching the project as an exciting learning experience, I kept the stress levels low and made the final product much better.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Historical fiction, definitely. I like reading fiction and absolutely love history. But for me, historical fiction serves a coaching and mentoring role as well. Take the lessons from the prior Industrial Revolutions for instance. The disruptive technologies involved may have been different than today — steam engines, electricity and the Internet for the prior three revolutions. But the movie played out in very similar ways, including the fear of job losses, companies going bankrupt, societal upheaval, change leadership and a few heroes of industry and governance. Ultimately, the most adaptable organizations and people found ways to turn turmoil into opportunity. That’s what can help us with the current Fourth Industrial Revolution.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
If I can inspire even a few people to look at digital disruption as an opportunity rather than a threat, I will be satisfied. If a few others can take the lessons I’ve learned and the resulting framework I’ve developed — about how a disciplined approach to Digital Transformation can lead to much success — then I’d be delighted. Digital Transformation, if executed well, could easily add a couple of percentage points to GDP growth. That’s a worthy challenge.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Just do it. There are many reasons why you should not write that book: you have no time, you’re an unknown, you’re not a perfect writer, you don’t know the ropes of publishing, and so on. On the other hand, the free resources on the Internet, the incredible good will of friends, colleagues and strangers and the power of good attitude are hugely more important for success.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Do a little reading about publishing before getting neck-deep into writing. If I’d done some basic homework first, I’d have picked up the important fact about not having to write the whole book before writing a book proposal. Also, knowledge about how the industry works can make a difference to your content and book strategy. My editor, Steve Piersanti, shared a candid and eye-opening blog on the industry called “The Ten Awful Truths About Book Publishing” which eventually really shaped my strategy. You can look up the article online.
2. Be clear on your ultimate goal. I’m sure of one fact: your ultimate goal isn’t just to finish writing the book. It could be to be established as a bestseller, to use the book as a platform to run a business, to bring some happiness to your readers’ lives, and so on. While I had vague ambitions about using my book to build my consulting business, I didn’t realize that my actions and plans weren’t sufficient beyond the immediate goal of getting a book out. I realized this issue at a Berrett-Koehler Authors conference and quickly adapted.
3. It takes a village to write a book, and the village is willing to help if you ask. People truly want to help. I intuitively set out to involve hundreds of people in everything from choosing my book title and cover to providing feedback on the manuscript and so on. And this was beyond the great team from the publisher and the hired PR agencies. I was blown away by how much people wanted to help. My SurveyMonkey request for feedback on my book title got four hundred responses including qualitative comments in three days!
4. Freely share your work; don’t try to protect it. Many authors make the mistake of treating their writing as if it were the Coca-Cola product formula. I learned quickly to take the opposite approach. I posted PDF versions of chapters and the entire book online for dozens of people to provide feedback on. I’ve freely given away chapters for companies to post on their websites and even mailed out free copies of the book to hundreds. Again, remember your ultimate goal. The writing is a means to hopefully a bigger end, which can be better served by embracing an open ecosystem.
5. Don’t ignore the importance of social media and email. Yes, email too. It’s actually the most effective PR tool. Over a couple of years, I was able to collect an email list of five thousand people who have become huge supporters. In terms of Facebook and Twitter, while nobody likes to be direct sold anything on these platforms, these can be huge assets for building a loyal base. For that you need to feed and groom your audience by communicating frequently and giving them information, advice or similar items of value.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I see immense positive potential in turning the Fourth Industrial Revolution into a force for hope and not for fear. I see it as a historic opportunity. Humanity has never had so much capability available, so readily. The average Smartphone user today has more computing capacity available at their fingertips than President Clinton did when he was in office. The challenge is in getting the training and capability on exactly how to make this a positive opportunity. I’d love to start an open ecosystem where this information, skill building and positivity are freely available to the world. Let’s make the Fourth Industrial Revolution a force for good by getting people ready for it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m very active and responsive on LinkedIn as Tony Saldanha, which is my primary social media tool. My twitter handle is @Tony_Saldanha, and I’m also very active on my website, www.Transformant.io
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.